What do you get when you put two former Apple engineers together? Innovative software that quickly, easily and inexpensively transforms your iPad or iPhone into a graphics tablet.
iOS apps, Astropad and the just-released Astropad Mini, along with free Mac software mirror your Mac screen onto your iPad or iPhone. The apps work with any Mac application, including Adobe Photoshop. Using a compatible stylus, you can retouch images in Photoshop (or use other Mac software) directly on the iPad.
Connected via USB or Wi-Fi, the Astropad developers have taken steps to ensure fast performance and say that LIQUID (their name for the technology used) delivers a peak performance measurement of 12ms versus AirPlay's 32ms. Of course, Wi-Fi connections always have quirks, so you might want to try both USB and Wi-Fi to see which delivers the best and smoothest connection. Although being tethered to your laptop cuts back on your mobility, if your Wi-Fi signals wax and wane, it's always good to have an alternative.
I haven't used the Astropad Mini but for the iPad version, set up is extremely fast and easy—I imagine it will be the same for those who want to install the app on the iPhones. Once everything is in order, you'll find a number of options to streamline your workflow, including customizable shortcuts (listed in a sidebar) to trigger commands on your Mac. You can also navigate to choose a specific part of the Mac screen, and there are buttons to zoom to 100 percent or full screen (you can also pinch to zoom and pan, if you prefer).
A caveat though: as much as I really like using this app, turning your iPad into a graphics tablet is not a replacement for the Wacom Cintiq, which—by nature of its technology—is designed specifically for the task, is more responsive and allows for more pinpoint accuracy when working with pixels.
That said, the Astropad is highly functional, generally responsive and may turn out to be my favorite app of the year. It delivers what it promises and it's really affordable, so I highly recommend you go for a spin with the new app. Both the Astropad and the Astropad Mini—regularly $30 and $10—are now on sale for $20 and $5, respectively, to celebrate the Astropad Mini launch.